WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. - After an unseasonably warm mid-November Saturday for the NCAA Fourth Round, it was an entirely different affair on Sunday for the Sectional Final in Williamstown, Massachusetts. With a downfall of overnight snow, Cole Field was deemed unplayable, and the contest between the hosts, Williams, and Messiah was moved to the turf of Farley-Lamb Field.
Coming out on top in the two teams' only other ever meeting, the Falcons (21-2) maintained their perfect record against the Ephs (18-1-2), topping the sectional hosts 4-1, en route to a 2nd straight appearance in the National Semifinal.
With snow still coming down heavily at start-time, the game kicked off anyway, and Messiah reaped the reward of an early goal in the 5th minute.
Marisa Weaver bombed down the left side of the Ephs' defense, holding off attempted challenges from two center-backs, before lashing an almighty effort from outside the box, past a stranded Olivia Barnhill in goal.
"You can't give up an early goal against a team of [Messiah's] quality," commented Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard regretfully after her team's defeat. "We may have had a lot of the ball, but it took a while for us to find our attacking rhythm, and Messiah didn't have that problem."
After over an hour of without a goal, in spite of the Ephs' continued efforts, the game exploded into life in the 73rd minute, as the Falcons and Ephs combined for 3 goals in just over 90 seconds.
First, the Falcons doubled their lead thanks to an eye-catching 22-yard free kick from Weaver.
The routine had both Emily Lockwood and Julia Kyne take touches to adjust the angle for Weaver, but then the senior striker belted the ball into the top-left corner, leaving Barnhill with little to do besides watch her net bulge because of Weaver for the second time of the afternoon.
Sixty-five seconds later, the Falcons extended their lead again through Kyne, as the first-year won the ball off the last Eph defender, dribbled toward goal, and made no mistake finding the back of the net with only Barnhill to beat.
The Eph attack breathed temporary life into the game and their supporters, when 37 seconds after the Falcons' third, Audrey Thomas got her side on the board, cutting the Falcons' lead to two.
The senior received a pass from Alison Lu on the edge of the area, juked a defender, and blasted a shot over the head and arms of Sara Yunez in goal.
"When you're down 3-0, you're excited about anything you can get," reflected Thomas on her goal-scoring effort. "You're cautiously excited though I think. You know it's still an uphill battle, but it was enough to keep us moving at the time."
Any residual hopes for the Ephs, however, were dashed when the Falcons well and truly put the game to bed in the 83rd minute, when Skylar Ulry tallied Messiah's 4th of the afternoon.
Brooke Firestone rolled a ball horizontally across the field of play to a waiting Ulry. The junior raced forward onto the ball and looped a shot toward goal, kissing the left post before finding the back of the net.
"Messiah is a great team. They came out on top," spoke Pinard reverently of her opposition on the day in her post-match interview. "You can't win them all. The fight the seniors showed, the hunger the younger players had, I couldn't have asked for more from my team."
With the win, Messiah earns a berth in the National Semifinal round for the 11th time in the last 13 years, as they hunt for a 6th NCAA Title in their program's prolific history, while Williams' quest to repeat as National Champions and make a 3rd straight appearance in the Final 4 were dashed by the clinical finishing of the Falcon offense.
"It was worth it," spoke Thomas unabashedly of her 4-year career at Williams. "I hit the jackpot. All the effort, all the late nights, and all the long talks, all those things were worth it. To see the younger players on our team as affected as the seniors after the game, it's an indication that this team will be ready to go again next year, and every year we're going to be back just as strong."